8. Changing My Mindset Could Save My Life
My foray into immunotherapy has started a bit earlier than expected! During my treatment last week, my oncologist added in Ramucirumab (Cyramza) to my FOLFIRI chemotherapy. It is a fully human monoclonal antibody drug used to target a specific cell mutation that I have, called VEGF. I had increased nausea and fatigue until Sunday, not completely debilitating, but I did nap most days that week. What I’d heard at NIH is that you have symptoms if the immunotherapy is working, as the symptoms are indicative of an immune response. Cross all fingers and toes for me, please.
I want to share one of the big moments of insights that I’ve had on the trail. When I attended the Comprehensive Cancer Wellness Program (CCWP) at Hippocrates Health Institute (HHI) in West Palm Beach, FL. in November, one of the most helpful areas that we discussed was the topic of Reconsidered Beliefs. Based on Carl Simonton’s method in the field of psychoneuroimmunology and the science of mind-body medicine, you use specific criteria to qualify the beliefs you hold that no longer work for you, and then reframe them to something that better supports your forward momentum and wellbeing.
After the debacle at NIH, I knew that I wasn’t mentally ready to head right back into chemotherapy. My intuition was screaming at me to take some time. It was what compelled me to delay treatment and fly to Florida to get my head on straight. When this topic came up during the program, I eagerly volunteered to be the class guinea pig.
It is an amazing tool, and I want to share with you what my previous beliefs were, and what they changed into. Previously, I had felt so stuck with these beliefs. I was anxious and scared about how my new chemotherapy treatment would go. For this exercise, I had to come up with five current beliefs to work with. The first three came easily, the last two were added in after some pondering, but didn’t feel as triggered.
My Previous Beliefs:
Chemotherapy will not be effective
Chemotherapy might kill me
My previous treatment was a lot to go through with nothing to show for it
My integrative resources are not yet set up
I feel trepidation about my new chemotherapy protocol
Over 45 minutes, our class of 14 participants and three facilitators collectively helped me wordsmith the language around these beliefs into statements that completely changed direction, while still feeling true to me. Here’s what my beliefs morphed into...
My Reconsidered Beliefs:
I have ways of positively influencing my treatment outcome (works for the first two previous beliefs)
A stable scan is a positive result
I am gathering the resources for my integrative care
I look forward to feeling excited about my treatment
Right when the exercise was done, I felt so much lighter. I had been so stuck -- I knew exactly where I was stuck, but didn’t know how to unstick myself. This group of people, who were so open and generous, totally met me nonjudgmentally right where I was, and pulled me along to where I wanted and needed to go. I am eternally and deeply appreciative for their help.
I know how to work with changing thoughts and behavioral patterns. After this session, I was armed with the information and tools I needed to get there, these new statements completely resonated and are what I believe to be true. I did have ways of positively influencing my treatment outcome! A stable scan is a positive result!! I did want to feel excited about my treatment, but wasn’t there yet. I could however, look forward to feeling that excitement one day.
My work after that session was to write over the old beliefs with the newly reconsidered ones every time I experienced them. Over time, those rewritten beliefs become the new norm. This is the part that I have experience with, and this part came easily. I kept telling myself over and over that I have ways to positively influence my treatment outcome, that stable scans lengthen the runway so I can figure out kicking this cancer. The day after I returned from Florida, I began to set up my integrative resources and kept reiterating that I did indeed look forward to feeling excited about treatment.
A couple of weeks after returning home and in the midst of starting my new chemotherapy protocol, I received word that one of the participants in our class had died. It threw me for a loop, my recurring thought was, “Well, this shit just got real.” I reached out to a few of my CCWP classmates and we commiserated at what a bitch cancer could be. It took me the whole day to get my head back on straight, but it also strengthened by resolve. At my core, I do not believe that this cancer will kill me.
Now here’s the crazy thing that happened: In the days before my third treatment, five weeks into the new chemotherapy protocol and seven weeks after this collective session during CCWP, I actually felt excited about my treatment. I was in the bathtub the night before treatment and was thinking about the next day. I had a light buzz in my chest, and I smiled broadly when I realized that I was actually excited about my treatment, not just looking forward to feeling excited about it! And in the time since, that feeling has grown. Wow.
I want to take a moment to pause and share the impact this has had. It strengthens the foundation to be able to support increasing positive emotion and having strong reasons for living, which I’ve blogged about previously. In essence, what it means it that it further enforces moving away from fear and inviting more relaxation into my experience. More happiness, joy and love… and less fear, anxiety, sadness and overwhelment. A sharp, pointy, sticky area has been completely resolved. Now that’s progress!
In closing, my thoughts can’t help but circle back to my time at HHI, and to the gentle spirit that has passed from this world. To Maria, such a sweet light in my experience at HHI, I love you and miss you.